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Disturbance influences the outcome of plant–soil biota interactions in the invasive Acacia longifolia and in native species


L. M. Carvalho, Dept of Integrative Biology, Univ. of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada. E-mail:


Interrelated causes of plant invasion have been gaining increasing recognition. However, research on this subject has mainly focused around conceptual models. Here we explore whether plant–soil biota feedbacks and disturbance, two major factors capable of facilitating invasive plants in introduced ranges, interact to preferentially benefit exotics compared to native plants. We investigated the influence of fire disturbance on plant–soil biota interactions for the invasive Acacia longifolia and two dominant natives (Cytisus striatus and Pinus pinaster) in Portuguese dune systems. In the first experiment, we grew exotic and native plants in soil inoculated with soil biota from unburned or recently burned soils collected in an area with small invasion intensity by A. longifolia. Soil biota effects on the exotic legume A. longifolia changed from neutral to positive after fire, whereas the opposite outcome was observed in the native legume C. striatus, and a change from negative to neutral effects after fire occurred in the native P. pinaster. Fire reduced mycorrhizal colonization in all species and rhizobial colonization in C. striatus but not in A. longifolia. In the second experiment, we grew the exotic and native plants with conspecific and heterospecific soil biota from undisturbed soils (area with low invasion intensity by A. longifolia), and from post-fire soils (area affected by a fire ∼12 years ago and currently heavily invaded by A. longifolia). The exotic benefited more from post-fire than from undisturbed soil biota, particularly from those associated with natives. Natives did not experience detrimental effects with invasive-associated soil biota. Our results show that fire disturbance affected the functional interactions between soil biota and plants that may benefit more the exotic than some native species. Disturbance may open a window of opportunity that promotes invader success by altering soil enemy and mutualistic impacts.